STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Should Netflix and Hulu give you emergency alerts?

The federal emergency alert program was designed decades ago to interrupt your TV show or radio station and warn about impending danger — from severe weath...

Posted: Mar 11, 2019 5:52 AM

The federal emergency alert program was designed decades ago to interrupt your TV show or radio station and warn about impending danger — from severe weather events to acts of war.

But people watch TV and listen to radio differently today. If a person is watching Netflix, listening to Spotify or playing a video game, for example, they might miss a critical emergency alert altogether.

"More and more people are opting out of the traditional television services," said Gregory Touhill, a cybersecurity expert who served at the Department of Homeland security and was the first-ever Federal Chief Information Security Officer. "There's a huge population out there that needs to help us rethink how we do this."

Possible vs. practical

Adding federal alerts to those platforms might not entirely be a technical issue, at least on the government's end. The service has already been updated to include smartphones.

And FEMA, the agency that manages the system's technology, told CNN Business that there are "no known technical hurdles involved in transmitting alerts" to devices that are connected to the internet. In fact, the agency has a way to do that, according to a FEMA spokesperson.

But a new tool would need to be developed to distribute alert information to streaming platforms. FEMA said the "unknown quantity" is figuring out who would develop and install the applications.

That's not a simple task, said Touhill, who's now president of the cybersecurity firm Cyxtera Federal Group. He told CNN Business that the required tool would need to be "exquisitely complex." It would need to be thoroughly tested and safeguarded to ensure that only authorized parties have access.

"Is it possible? Yes. Is it practical? Maybe not," Touhill told CNN Business.

Another concern is whether devices connected to the internet are reliable indicators of a person's location. Emergency alerts need to be able to target a specific area so that they only reach people who are at risk.

People on the internet can be traced through their IP addresses — unique strings of numbers assigned to each device that are also associated with a specific set of geographic coordinates. That's how companies like Netflix determine which language and content to show its customers.

But those locations can be unreliable or easily manipulated, Touhill said.

It's also not clear that enough information is there in some cases. A source familiar with Netflix's thinking told CNN Business that the company's ability to pinpoint a customer's exact location may vary depending on that person's internet service provider. That means Netflix might not reliably know a person's location with enough specificity to provide effective emergency alerts.

Congress has considered some of these issues. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, proposed a bill last year that called for authorities to look into the feasibility of adding streaming services to the federal emergency alert system.

The READI Act received bipartisan support and passed the Senate, but it died in the House. Schatz's office told CNN Business this week that he plans to refile the bill for the current Congress.

How to improve

Adding streaming platforms to the alert system "is not a bad idea," said National Weather Service senior meteorologist Kevin Laws.

Laws is based in Birmingham and was part of a team that issued warnings to residents when tornadoes struck Alabama last Sunday. His team watches storms on a radar, and their predictions are automatically routed to FEMA's alert system.

But upgrades to the system are expensive and slow. Instead, Laws said he thinks alerts would be better helped through improvements to the type of information that authorities can share when a storm is in the area.

His ideal scenario? A day when storms are tracked automatically and alerts are consistently updated to show residents percentage of the likelihood that they will be affected.

Such a feature would have helped last Sunday, he said, when some storms were particularly strong and unpredictable. Some parts of Alabama received emergency warnings more than half an hour before they were hit. But when a deadly tornado unexpectedly veered toward Lee County, where the death toll reached 23 people, locals were only notified about nine minutes beforehand.

"I've spent many tearful days out there doing this job. And it kills me a little more every time," Laws said, adding that disasters like the one that hit the state will happen again.

"We have to keep improving the system," he said.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3235045

Reported Deaths: 38268
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles108548815614
San Bernardino2685421719
Riverside2668492970
Orange2391752768
San Diego2300662421
Santa Clara991741278
Kern91119591
Fresno863361084
Sacramento846531194
Alameda71298906
Ventura67066546
San Joaquin60545844
Contra Costa55593492
Stanislaus49500803
Tulare43574542
Monterey38434261
San Mateo34510356
San Francisco30734293
Santa Barbara27149267
Solano27141118
Imperial25745510
Merced25743332
Sonoma25160251
Kings20223161
Placer18034188
San Luis Obispo17151161
Madera14068175
Santa Cruz13088136
Marin12067166
Yolo11276146
Shasta10144132
Butte9865136
El Dorado824566
Sutter812984
Napa807050
Lassen530916
San Benito523851
Yuba522730
Tehama456446
Tuolumne351241
Nevada339473
Mendocino332236
Amador307433
Lake272932
Humboldt265227
Glenn202822
Colusa19079
Calaveras171323
Siskiyou150413
Mono11454
Inyo105329
Del Norte8783
Plumas6185
Modoc3924
Mariposa3575
Trinity3065
Sierra950
Alpine740
Unassigned00
Chico
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 39°
Oroville
Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: °
Chico
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 39°
Red Bluff
Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 39°
Red Bluff
Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 39°
Chico
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 39°
The first wave of rain, snow and wind has moved over California, but many more chances for rain, snow and gusty wind are in our short term and long term forecast. After a relatively quiet evening, we can expect more rain and snow starting early Thursday morning.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events